July 19, 2018
The Honorable Charles Allen
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20004
Dear Councilmember Charles Allen,
The undersigned 9 consumer and community advocacy groups urge your immediate action and support for Title II of the Consumer Disclosure Act of 2017 (B22-0020). The bill, which has been pending before the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee since January 2017, will prevent District residents from unknowingly becoming trapped in a complex web of hidden automatic renewal contract clauses they did not knowingly consent to.
In order to participate in commerce, consumers must sign lengthy fine print contracts. These contracts often contain automatic renewal clauses which will cause the contract or membership to renew automatically if the consumer fails to notify a merchant of their desire to cancel prior to a date of the merchant’s choosing. When these clauses are clearly disclosed, they can help consumers avoid service interruptions. However, unscrupulous merchants slip automatic renewal contract clauses into the fine print of contracts without properly disclosing their presence in order to trap consumers into lengthy contracts. The proliferation of these hidden automatically renewing contract clauses has caused one in three Americans to be tricked into agreeing to an automatically renewing contract.[i]
In the coming years, the trend of unscrupulous businesses hiding automatic renewal clauses in the fine print of contracts is unlikely to change. Deloitte predicts that online media subscriptions, subscriptions, which almost always contain these clauses, will grow by at least 20% in 2018.[ii] Fortunately, the Consumer Disclosure Act of 2017 would prevent these unwelcome financial surprises by:
- Requiring clear disclosure of any automatic renewal clause; and
- Requiring that a notification be sent to enrollees 30-60 days prior to the deadline for canceling a multi-month automatically renewing a contract
The unplanned expense that these clauses inflict on their victims is of particular concern for the socio-economically disadvantaged members of our community who are less able to weather surprise bills. Action on this issue is long overdue. In the absence of legislative action, District residents will continue to receive surprise bills for products or services they no longer need or desire.
Through Title II of the Consumer Disclosure Act, the D.C. Council has a real opportunity to improve the lives of Washingtonians by granting District residents the tools they need to avoid becoming ensnared by unwanted automatically renewing contracts. We urge you to quickly take action and to provide District residents with this long overdue protection which is already enjoyed in several states across the country.
American Family Voices
Consumer Federation of California
DC Fiscal Policy Institute
National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders
National Consumers League
Cc: Members of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
[i] Porche, Bradley. “Poll: Recurring charges are easy to start, hard to get out of,” Creditcards.com. August 21, 2017. Online: https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/autopay-poll.php
[ii] Deloitte. “Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions,” Pg. 41. 2017. Online: https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/gx-tmt-predictions-press-release.html